Book Review: Thrawn

He’s back! A favorite character of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, now Legends, has been recreated in this new novel by the one and only Timothy Zahn.  I believe Thrawn was one of the greatest disappointments to numerous fans when Disney announced that the EU was no longer going to be canon.  Thrawn is amazing.  Seriously.  His tactical genius made him a beloved character, up there with Mara Jade.  Even fans who were not into the novels, had a general idea of who Thrawn was.

I can speak for a lot of fans that when Thrawn was announced as a new character in Star Wars Rebels, fans were delighted. Then they announced a new book with him as well written by Zahn and the fans went nuts.

This new novel is an origin story of Thrawn. It shows how he came to work with the Empire and evolve into one of the greatest strategist’s and commanders (or Grand Admiral) of the Empire’s fleet, overcoming obstacles along the way.  His chief obstacle was that he is an alien and as the Empire is, you know, kind of prejudiced against aliens, it’s quite a feat that he makes it as far as he does.

 

***spoilers ahead***

 

The novel starts with Thrawn being rescued by the Empire from being exiled by his native Chiss species. I use the word “rescued” loosely because Thrawn purposefully drew them to him to board their ships and let himself be seen and caught by them and we find out later, in typical Thrawn style, that it was never a rescue at all – he had planned everything. On the ship, he encounters a young man Eli Vanto, who is on the road to becoming a supply chain officer. Vanto helps translate for Thrawn at times since his Basic is rusty and also because Vanto was also brought up in the Outer Rim (therefore also slightly disliked by others because he is “backwater”). Thrawn immediately gets taken to Emperor Palpatine who puts him into the Imperial Academy on a fast track with Vanto.

Throughout the novel, Vanto remains at Thrawn’s side through the academy, to commanding posts, and missions. Thrawn sees potential in Eli though it takes a long time for Eli to also see it. Half of the novel follows Eli regretting that he ever met Thrawn as he only wants a quiet life in the supply department.

As a side story, we are introduced to Arihnda Pryce, whom we have also seen from Star Wars Rebels. Her path intersects with Thrawn’s later down the line but we get a fleshed out backstory for her (the later governor of Lothal).  She begins her story working at her parent’s mine – Pryce Mining – which gets ripped from her by the Empire. She resolves to get it back. How does she get it back? Through political scheming and working with the Empire. If you can’t fight them, join them. Her journey to that point is up and down along with lots of petty backstabbing.

As Pryce moves up the ranks in the Empire politically, Thrawn also rises as a commander. Pryce does not have too much involvement with Thrawn, but when she does she helps him and Vanto through favors with connections (the great Tarkin, who was written superbly) and Thrawn also helps her with his tactical, objective way of looking at things.

The end of the novel sees a culmination of a battle (where we know Thrawn will obviously come out ahead) where those who doubted Thrawn are now convinced of his genius, along with understanding the real reasons for…well…everything in the novel that Thrawn has done. The side twist belongs with Arihnda Pryce and how far she has gone down the path of corruption. Thrawn’s beautiful plan gets screwed up by her with unnecessary deaths, but she never admits to it and covers her tracks beautifully, though he knows but can’t prove it. Thrawn still comes out ahead, but it’s interesting to see that this is the beginning of Pryce and Thrawn’s working relationship that we see in Rebels.

 

Pros:

  • It’s Thrawn. Enough said.
  • But seriously, there is not too much changed from the character older Star Wars fans loved reading about. He is still a genius and still a masterful tactician…rivaling Palpatine in some respects.
  • How did Thrawn get in Palpatine’s good books so well that Palpatine fast tracked him through the Academy and military career? Anakin Skywalker. Yes – interesting twist. Thrawn says he heard of Palpatine through his “servant, Anakin Skywalker”. This implies a lot. It implies that 1) Thrawn met Anakin when he was a Jedi and 2) he could have caught on to Palpatine’s game of chess that he was already working on bringing Anakin to his side prior to the Empire existing. It’s not a stretch to believe that as Thrawn is able to deduce everything. The question remains though – does Thrawn know Vader is Anakin? My guess is yes though nothing is confirmed.
  • Each chapter begins with an excerpt of Thrawn’s diary which made for a fascinating read. Chapters are also interspersed with Thrawn reading people’s body language and giving insight on how he picks up on their next moves.
  • There’s a lot on Thrawn in here, obviously. But crazily, I still feel like he’s a bit of a mystery. Well done Zahn!
  • You can read this novel even if you are a Disney-hater; if you love the EU and refuse to acknowledge anything Disney related. It actually fits into both Legends and the current canon, which I admire, especially since it’s a backstory. And, amazingly, this canon backstory actually fits in perfectly with Thrawn’s original backstory in Legends.
  • This novel ties into Rebels nicely as well as the other new canon books, though it’s not hitting you over the head with it.
  • Most of the characters from the movies are spot-on with the writing. Grand Moff Tarkin was eerily written, to the point that I had no problems believing his character (which is unlike how I felt with the writing of Han in Bloodline). Palpatine was done pretty well too, not 100%, but well enough for the time he was in the novel.
  • The new characters are also well written, for the most part. Pryce ended up being one of my favorites after reading, though during the novel I kept wanting to go back to Thrawn and see what he was up to. But once I closed the book and mulled over it for a bit, she ended up being one of the most multi-faceted interesting characters to come out of it. The last scene/battle of the novel when she goes down a point of no return, and sees the look on her parents faces, you have to wonder…is it worth it? She did everything for them and their mine, but you can tell they’d rather she hadn’t if they had to sacrifice who Arihnda had become.
  • There are hints of the Rebellion littered throughout the novel, but for the most part, it’s extremely Empire-driven, which I very much appreciated. It’s hard to write about the Empire in a way that seems positive, or at least neutral, when you’re writing in the Star Wars universe. This novel did it brilliantly…and I feel a little disloyal to the Rebellion for liking it so much!
  • My favorite observation of this entire novel was that I didn’t actually feel like I was reading a Star Wars novel. I felt like I was reading a good sci-fi book. Again, a little hard to do with Star Wars, especially with characters we love in the book. But because there was no mention of the Force (I think; I don’t remember it) or mysticism, Jedi, etc., it felt like a great sci-fi, outer space novel.

Cons:

  • For me, I felt like it took a while for Thrawn to feel like Thrawn. There was a learning curve for him in the beginning of the novel as he learned the Empire, and nuances of politics. In a way, I thought he seemed very much like Spock in the beginning of this novel. It eventually leveled out and got to a point where he felt like the Thrawn I loved and remembered, so I’m not sure if that was a deliberate move on Zahn’s part or if it was him being a little rusty.
  • Some of the book was littered with little side plots that I thought could have been kept out entirely. It’s tough because some of the side plots do end up coming together at the end of the novel, but some had me thinking…oh that’s it? When they were resolved.
  • Not enough time with Thrawn and art. One of the most loved parts about Thrawn (for me) was how much information he gained from observing society’s artwork. Through their art, he was often able to bring them down. It was a final piece of the puzzle that other tactician’s didn’t have time with or feel was necessary. Unfortunately, there was only one scene in this book where art played into the success of Thrawn. It always lingered in the background and was mentioned often, but we didn’t get to see it enough in action. We get in Rebels, thankfully, but I was sad about there was not as much in Thrawn.
  • I didn’t love Eli Vanto. He was a main character but the ending of his story was a little unbelievable to me. I won’t say much, but I don’t think he has the chops for what the end of his character arc bestowed upon him. I believe he was created as a bit of a Watson foil to Thrawn’s Sherlock but I often wanted him cut from the story entirely. I think I may be in the minority here but he was blah.
  • I’m not sure I want to put this as a con but it’s a little interesting. Was there a plot? I’m not sure. It seemed more like a detailed timeline of events. There wasn’t a real antagonist, more of a mystery Thrawn wanted to solve but it didn’t seem too pressing. So if you need a plot and an arc and all that good stuff, maybe you won’t really get into this as much as you’d want to.

I’m giving Thrawn 4/5 stars. It’s hard for me to rate any book 5/5 stars, and Star Wars books usually don’t make that cut. BUT this is still the best book I’ve read from the new canon.  Read it if you have EU nostalgia, love Thrawn, or want a good Empire-driven Star Wars novel.

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Books of 2016 (and my lengthy reviews)

Okay!  This is it…one last recap post and then onto more Star Wars goodness.  I promise.

I really thought that after the birth of my daughter I wouldn’t have any time to read books.  While I definitely slowed down, I was able to squeeze in a lot more than I originally thought.  Especially while breastfeeding!  When she was very little, she would feed every hour to two hours and for at least 30 minutes so I had plenty of time to catch up on a book.

In 2016, I read 26 books and 9349 pages.  The oldest book I read was published in 1952 (The Glitter and the Gold…which I didn’t even finish) and the newest book was the Star Wars Bloodline from 2016.

 

These are listed in chronological order with the first book I read in January through to December of 2016.

 

  1. A Turn of Light by Julie Czerneda. Oh my gosh, horrible memories keep flying back to me of this book.  I couldn’t stand it.  So many people loved this book on Goodreads so I’m completely baffled as to why I really struggled with it.  The cover captivated me, as did the description.  I mean, there was a dragon in it, c’mon…  But, oh, so painful.  The book was “yuge” at 800+ pages and I thought at least 600 of those pages could have been cut out.  It follows a main character, Jenn, on her day to day life for two weeks in a remote village in a fantasy world.  There is magic of course, but it’s slightly confusing on how it works.  And a little creepy too.  I wish I could give a good plot summary but I think I’ve blocked most of it out of my head.  The book does get interesting at the end and I feel like it finally began to pick up and pieces fell into place.  I just wish that momentum could have carried us throughout the entire novel as opposed to consistently dragging on with oh-aren’t-these-homey-farm-folk-cute and oh-they-have-unexplained-magic-in-their-land-too-how-cute.  Enough already.  The characters were way too complacent for even homey farm folk and their actions were boring.  Books like this are why non-fantasy readers do not pick up fantasy novels.  If only they would read books like Elantris or Name of the Wind, they may have a different opinion of the megahuge novels.  2/5 stars.
  2. Burma Chronicles; Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China; Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea; A User’s Guide to shenzhen-guy-delisleNeglectful Parenting; Chroniques de Jerusalem by Guy Delisle. I stumbled upon Delisle’s Burma Chronicles by mistake when I was looking in the graphic novel section of our library.  And I fell in love.  I quickly read all of his travelogue’s, plus his Guide to Neglectful Parenting (not near as good as his travelogue’s).  Translated from French, Delisle recounts his experiences in remote places of the world through drawings and sarcastic humor.  It’s also very insightful and the way he conveys his thoughts on places like North Korea comes across clearly in his little pictures.  He first gets placed in places due to his job and later on accompanies his wife as she works with Doctors Without Borders.  The best part is when his child is born and he becomes a stay at home dad in a foreign country.  Out of all these books/graphic novels/travelogues, my favorite was the Burma Chronicles and Shenzhen5/5 stars for all, though some fall closer to 4.5/5 stars.
  3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This novel was a bestseller a few years ago.  It was on my list to read for a long time but it was always taken out at the library.  I finally got the chance this February when I was on vacation and I loved it!  Circuses have always interested me from when I was very young and saw the movie Toby Tyler.  What made this book gripping was the extra element of magic that was thrown into it, plus the two main characters who were forced against their wishes to compete against each other to the death with their magic within the circus…but they fell in love.  How do you circumnavigate that?  I appreciated the ending to this book.  I think Erin Morgenstern gave us a happy medium.   It was frustrating to read it and know from the very beginning that one of the main characters had to die.  You couldn’t see a way out.  Then when the characters learn that one has to die, you wonder who is going to make the sacrifice since at this point they are both madly in love.  Some reviews complained that the ending was a cop out, but I did not feel like that at all!  I thought it was deftly played and I did not see it coming.  I really enjoyed this book.  It was a good blend of realism, magic, romance, and historical fiction without going overboard in any of those categories.  I would like to give a larger review but then I’d go into even more spoilers than I already have, so I’ll leave it at that.  5/5 stars.
  4. Nobody’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when this book was over.    Talk about annoying!  I couldn’t stand the main character and felt like the entire storyline was taken too much out of historical and into the fiction realm.  Helen, based on the Princess of Sparta/Helen of Troy, was so unrealistic that I almost didn’t finish the book.  Thank goodness it was short.  Friesner obviously wanted to create this “strong” heroine who makes her own paths but it felt very forced. I see what the author was trying to do and the point of view she trying to bring to Helen but it felt immature.  The writing also felt unpolished and like a teenager had written it.  I would not recommend this book to any female young adult/teenager.  It’s just too unrealistic.  2/5 stars.
  5. Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn. This book was good.  A solid good.  Not great, not meh, but good.  I found that I enjoyed it a lot.  I loved the blend of a teenager in the modern world, but also the prevalence and acknowledgement that dragons were living breathing creatures right over the border.  It’s an easy read and perfect for just zooming through a book that has an urban fantasy feel to it.  The only thing that really bothered me was the focus on sex in this novel and losing her virginity.  In the end, Vaughn uses it as a plot point but I still felt like it was pounded into our head. Should she have sex?  Should she not?    I did love the main character however, despite her obsession with losing her virginity.  Other than that, she was relatable and a female heroine who wasn’t too obsessed with her boyfriend, could make decisions on her own, and level headed enough to make me understand her actions.  And dragons!  Real, talking dragons in the modern day world.  How fun is that??  3.5/5 stars.
  6. Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. Um, loved this book.  Absolutely loved it.  Having been raised by a European mother, I had a hunch that I would not be raising ARM (or any of my
    children) like other American mothers.  Reading this book after skimming through some boring “Baby’s 1st Year” books was a refreshing, and much needed, change.  It reminded me a bit of my childhood.  I always thought my parents were overly strict, and they were…compared to most of my American friends.  It wasn’t until I was in high school and college that I realized the difference was my mother is European and my father is Australian and they both brought a unique, non-American cultural view to raising children.  My favorite parts of reading this is how many moments I had of “Oh, I never realized that, but that is SO TRUE!”  For instance – how much American kids eat.  How impatient children in our society are.  How we don’t follow through with our “No”s occasionally.  How our kids our picky eaters (and how to prevent that).  There are definitely some parts that are overgeneralized about Americans and there are parts of French society that would not make me want to live there (the pressure on having your body back and looking fabulous months after giving birth!), but the parenting style is to be commended.  I liked this book so much that I bought it (big deal) and read it again after Ayla was born on some of those long sleepless nights and tiring days.  5/5 stars.
  7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. Em. Gee.  This book took forever!  I was simultaneously reading it alongside all the other books Silmarillionthat were previously listed here.  It took me 4 months.  I would get super into it, and then in typical Tolkien fashion he would blab on and on about something boring and I would drop it for a bit, etc.  I found that the book did not follow as quite of a linear pace as LotR does.  There’s also a lot of mythology to the novel, which lends well but at times can leave you confused.  The gods are there and then they disappear and leave everything to the elves…who have their own unique history.  I found that the elves read a little like a soap opera, but the problem was that we’d get a quick glance into one story line, and just when I found myself getting interested in the characters, they disappeared.  They *might* turn up again, or they might not.  This made it hard for me to read and remain interested.  I love LotR, but maybe I should read the rest of Tolkien’s work sparingly.  3.5/5 stars.
  8. The Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan. I picked this up because we live close to Newport, RI and I have visited the summer mansion of the Vanderbilt’s.  I thought the autobiography of one of the Vanderbilt children would be similar to a Downton Abbey season.    It was not.  Though I must say, her mother was an absolute bitch and therefore a delight to read!  But once she was old enough that her mother was no longer in the book, I got very bored and stopped reading it.  2/5 stars.
  9. Wild Within by Christine Hartmann. A romance novel written by my neighbor.  Enough said.
  10. Dealing with Dragons; Searching for Dragons; Calling on Dragons; Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. In which Kiri reads all 4 books in the series before giving birth.  (All chapters in these novels begin, “In which…”)  I love these books.  I used to dealing-with-dragonsread them all the time when I was younger and even with a 10+ year break since I’ve read them…they still are amazing.  The characters are great, the storyline is great, the world building is great.  It’s all great.  I also wanted to read them to see if they pass the independent-female-heroine YA novel I could give to ARM when she gets older and they still do.  It’s the story about a princess who does not want to do what normal princesses do (embroidery, curtseying, marrying prince’s)…so she runs away from her kingdom and becomes a princess to a dragon instead.  The dragon admires her sense and intelligence and they become fast friends.  Meanwhile, wizards are trying to “steal” magic from the dragons and this is a mystery, but of course ends in a climactic battle.  That’s the first book.  The next three continue to follow the princess’s life, but from different point of views.  Book two is from her future-husbands point of view, book three is from her good friend (a witch), and book four is from her son’s point of view.  If you love YA, and even if you don’t, but want an easy read full of magic and fun – definitely read these! 5/5 stars.
  11. The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher. This book has a weird place in my heart.  I got it because I was getting induced into labor.  I heard that it can sometimes take 24-48 hours to even give birth when you’re induced and you could be bored out of your mind for a long time…so I wanted a gripping book to sustain me.  I was lucky and was only 8 hours so the book didn’t help much, but I read it during the endless hours of breastfeeding that come with a newborn.  That said, the book wasn’t amazing.  I liked it but I don’t think I’ll be reading the second book.  It takes a lot to keep me enthralled enough to read another book in a series.  My main problem with the book were the characters.  I did not get connected to enough of them to care if they lived or died.  In fact, my favorite character was a cat, Rowl, but only because he was funny.  In order for me to love a book, I have to love the characters.  This book had plenty of swashbuckling fun but if I don’t care if a character lives or dies, then I’m not going to rate it any higher than 3 stars.  3/5 stars.
  12. Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein. This historical YA novel explored the lost Roanoke colony from a fictional character’s point of view, Cate.  Banished by Queen Elizabeth for falling in love with Raleigh, it goes into the people’s first years in America and what could have happened to the people.  The book makes the assumption that half leave after a disagreement in hopes of finding a better area and the other half assimilate into the Native American culture and tribes.  What I enjoyed about this novel was we received two different looks at life from Cate’s view: Elizabethan England and the first colonists in America.  4/5 stars.
  13. Bloodline by Claudia Gray. See my review here3/5 stars.
  14. Broken Skies by Theresa Kay.    Meh…  I liked that the main characters, Jax and Lir, did not spend the entire book fighting but instead fell into a groove early on.  There’s nothing worse than YA teen novels where the two main characters ignore their feelings for each other and bicker throughout the entirety.  I also think Kay did a great job with creating characters and societies that were fleshed out as much as possible for a YA novel.  It was fascinating to see a dystopian world where you weren’t quite sure of the motives of either side – it was a breath of fresh air from most other dystopian novels nowadays.  The main problem I had with this book was that though Ms. Kay was trying to present Jax as a “strong female character”, she still needed a male (first her brother and then Lir) to help her overcome her difficulties and a broken past.  That’s why I give this a “meh”.  My one main problem was actually a big problem for me because it frustrated me the entire way through reading.  I felt the book could be a lot stronger and more beneficial to young girls if we didn’t have Jax so reliant on different men.  3/5 stars.
  15. Clan of the Cave Bear; The Valley of Horses; The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel. Clan of the Cave Bear was amazing.  It was unbelievably good.  It had a slow start, but once it got going, I couldn’t put it down.  The book goes into the story of a young girl named Ayla, who loses her family to an earthquake.  She gets taken in by a prehistoric group who calls themselves a Clan.  Ayla is the “modern” human: completely upright, smart/inventive, pale with blond hair, and can talk easily with sounds.  The Clan is prehistoric: hunched over, broad foreheads, bowed legs.  The book follows her life trying to fit in with these prehistoric people who are the only family she knows, while being so different..and because of that difference, facing hatred from some other Clan members.  She has a baby with one of them that is deformed and at the end, she is forced out of the clan to be on her own.  The next novel follows her living by herself and looking for others like herself, and also following the story line of a man named Jondalar who is like her.  Predictably, they both meet up towards the end and fall in love.  Then it starts going downhill.     Ayla was an awesome character.  Then she met Jondalar and he sucked which made the book almost unbearable. The final novel, The Mammoth Hunters, introduce Ayla and Jondalar to a new group of people and Ayla learns how to live with others like her.  The book also sucked because Auel decided to create a love triangle between Jondalar and another man.  It was excruciatingly painful to read.  How did a series that start off SO WELL end up SO HORRIBLY?  Just read the first book of this series if you are going to read it.  It’s hard, because it leaves on such a cliffhanger, but the last two novels were so disappointing that you’ll get as frustrated as I did.  Book 1: 4/5 stars.  Book 2: 3/5 stars.  Book 3: 2/5 stars.
  16. The Lies of Locke Lamora; Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. I believe this is a trilogy but it didn’t hold my interestlies-of-locke-lamora enough to continue to book three. I learned my lesson with Clan of the Cave Bear.  I’m a little surprised only because the Goodreads reviews on this book are amazing and even my beloved Pat Rothfuss wrote a review on how good it is.  The book follows the life of a professional (and I mean really professional) pickpocket: Locke Lamora.  Think almost like Ocean’s Eleven heist-like novel.  The first novel jumped between flashbacks and current day which made it a little hard to follow but in the end, it was worth it.  The novel didn’t shy away from deaths of main characters, other characters getting screwed over, and nail-biting suspense.  It was long, though.  The novel had a lot of fluff that I think could have been cut out.  I remember debating if I should keep reading when I finished the first one, but I thought, why not?  I’ll try the next one.  It was not near as good and dragged a lot more.  But again, it did not shy away from deaths and I actually liked the main character, Locke, a lot more in the second novel than the first.  I would recommend these books to people who want something different while reading fantasy.  It had a tad of magic, but nothing was overdone and there was not a lot of romance either.  3/5 stars for both books.

 

My favorite book of this year would have been Bringing up Bébé and Clan of the Cave Bear.  I read Bringing up Bébé twice this year, so that definitely says something.  Clan of the Cave Bear was so thought provoking and took a subject that I thought would not be interesting at all and had me crying at the end of the novel.  It was so gripping that I was able to consistently read it, even while sleep deprived and having a newborn.  I definitely recommend it to anyone.  Even though it starts slow, it’s so worth it.

I read a lot of books in series this year, which is unusual.  I also noticed that I didn’t like a lot of the books I read, unfortunately.  Life is much too short to not read good books!  This means I’ll have to pick and choose better this year OR learn that it’s okay to put down a book in the middle of it, instead of wanting to finish because I think it’ll get better.

Mostly, I’m just happy to see that my reading didn’t slow down *too* much since having a baby.  Everyone said it would go out the window but I found that if I make time for reading, I can still enjoy it.

If you want to follow me on Goodreads, here’s my profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3910665-kiri I’d love to follow you back!

 

What was your favorite book(s) of 2016?  I’ll put it on my list!

Books of 2015 (and my lengthy reviews)

Honestly, this is one of my favorite posts to write.  Mostly because I love reading other WP bloggers posts on the books they read.  You never know when you’re going to see a book on someone else’s review and think you should read it…then it changes your life.

This year I’ve read 23 books and 9,432 pages.  This is my second highest reading year since I got married (2010) in terms of books and pages.  I guess I found a lot of time to read this year!  My record is 26 books in 2014 and 11,003 pages in 2011.

Most of the books I read this year were published after the year 2000.  The oldest book I read was The Fellowship of the Ring published in 1954.

These are listed in chronological order with the first book being what I read in January and the last book I completed.

  1. Choices of One. By Timothy Zahn.  Like I mentioned in my review earlier this year – how fun that 2016 started with a Star Wars novel.  It seemed fitting, what with a new era of Star Wars dawning.  I won’t put a real review here since you can read the longer one in my previous post.  5/5 stars.
  2. Blood and Beauty: The Borgias. By Sarah Dunant.  I don’t know much about the Borgias and their lurid mark on history, so I enjoyed this introductory novel to their lives.  It ended too early in the game for me and I’m not sure if there’s going to be a second novel about their lives.  The part that was in there though, was delicious, fun, and I liked the slant she gave to the characters.  The only part that I was truly disappointed in was how little Dunant actually spent with the main man – Pope Rodrigo Borgia.  4/5 stars.
  3. Empress of the Seven Hills. By Kate Quinn.  Kate Quinn has taken over Philippa Gregory’s place in my heart for historical novels empress of the seven hillswith romance, backstabbing, and politics.  I love almost any book by her.  Though this was not as good as Mistress of Rome or Daughters of Rome, I still really enjoyed it.  What set it apart a little from her other novels is that there was a lot of the betrayal and backstabbing, but at its core, there was a lot about loyalty and growth.  This book also had a different ending from the others, where the antagonist did not get what was coming for her, but shocker, she is not disgraced and she lives!  All the main characters lives get turned upside down and nothing ends how you want it to.  It reminded me of ESB in that way…and I loved every moment.  I would recommend this book for people who are interested in Ancient Rome but don’t know much of its history.  4/5 stars
  4. Red Rising. By Pierce Brown.  Hmmm…what to say about this novel?  Being hailed as a new bestseller about the dystopian future, I found it to be a mashup of Hunger Games + Lord of the Flies + Ender’s Game.  In essence, a little off.  The biggest problem I had is that I couldn’t remember what was going on each time I picked it up.  It was the kind of book that is great when you’re sitting down for long periods of time (like a plane ride), but not great when you read bits and pieces before you go to bed each night.  I think it was because the characters weren’t really memorable, there were too many of them, and they changed constantly.  But the ending…the ending was good.  If you like endings that kind of piss you off, you might want to give this a shot.  3/5 stars.
  5. A Mad, Wicked Folly. By Sharon Biggs Waller.  Predictable, and I got bored half way through it.  It was a typical YA novel of a beautiful girl trapped in luxury and wanting to be part of a bigger cause (she becomes a suffragette).  These books can be written well, but this one spent a ridiculous amount of time on the love story.  The main female protagonist did not feel as strong because you could never tell if she was making decisions for herself or her love interest.  3/5 stars.
  6. Chalice.  By Robin McKinley.  Yaaaaaaaaawn.  I actually was really disappointed with this novel and I like a lot of McKinley’s work.  But Chalice was so boring and really dragged.  I can’t even really tell you what it’s about because nothing happened. It was almost entirely composed of flashbacks.  If you like books that do a lot of world building, then you will like this book.  I feel like 70% of it was world building and having you get to know the environment and understanding the demesne.  30% was actually storytelling and plot.  The ending didn’t make sense either.  Needless to say, I put down the book feeling really disappointed.  When I read other reviews by readers, it seems like people either love the book or hate it.  I was in the latter camp.  2/5 stars.
  7. Secrets of a Charmed Life. By Susan Meissner.  First book I read by Meissner this year and it turned me onto her as an author.  I loved this novel way more than I thought I would.  Meissner does a great job of twisting past and present into a story.  She weaves together the lives of two sisters, Emmy and Julia, their separation due to WWII, and the guilt that follows both of them for 20 years of their life.  It’s a harsh, real look of someone who has big dreams and those dreams are snatched away because of war.  But not only does Emmy never pursue those dreams again, but it’s interesting the way it becomes Julia’s dream instead.  This story completely engrossed me.  I thought the characters were very well written; there was suspense, heartache, and Meissner combined so many styles of writing that it kept me on my toes.  4/5 stars.
  8. The Name of the Wind & The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles). By Patrick Rothfuss.  Two mega huge high fantasy novels, both really good.  The novels follow Kvothe, the main character who seems to be a hero from stories but has changed his name and is a solitary bartender in a backwoods town.  Both books are almost entirely flashbacks, but when we go back to the present, something interesting always happens – to the point that you know the present will be important, but first we need to find out how he got there.  These books are huge so they are not for the faint of heart.  They are not fast paced either, but everything that happens is intriguing.  The worst part of these novels?  THE THIRD BOOK ISN’T OUT YET.  And there’s no news on the release date either.  This is possibly the worst thing about reading great books that are part of an unfinished series…now I have to wait.  4-5/5 stars.
  9. A New Dawn. By John Jackson Miller.  You can read my review here, but in short, I liked getting the backstory of Kanan and Hera.  I didn’t like how there was not as much about Hera or from her point of view as I was hoping.  3/5 stars.
  10. In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart. By Ruth Graham.  Written by Billy Graham’s daughter, Ruth writes about her struggles and how not to judge others and use God as a rock to help you through.    I thought it would be better is all I’m saying.  2.5/5 stars.
  11. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  By Cheryl Strayed.  No, I haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to.  At wild PCT trailtimes, I really liked this book, but most of the time I was bored.  Maybe it’s just me, but the parts that rubbed me wrong on this book was how it felt like a lot of whining and complaining from Cheryl.  She had plenty of moments to get her act together prior to her marriage crumbling, doing drugs, and drifting apart from friends and family.  Instead, she hikes the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) with NO experience whatsoever with hopes that it will heal her.  The funny thing is – we sit with her throughout the entire trail, but never find out if the PCT really pieced her back together.  As soon as she’s done with the PCT, we’re basically done with the book, except for a small few paragraphs about the rest of her life.  And by rest of her life, I mean, she immediately jumps 5 years later.  That was the part I was most looking forward to…how did the PCT change her life afterwards?  I thought it was an essential piece of the puzzle and we only got a slight whiff of it.  It’s a great book for those who like those introspective, figuring-my-shit-out kind of books similar to Glass Castle or even Eat, Pray, Love.  It’s a horrible book for avid hikers who dream of hiking the PCT or have hiked the PCT.  3/5 stars.
  12. The Buried Giant. By Kazuo Ishiguro.  I thought I would love the storyline when I started out, but then the style of writing really got under my skin to the point that it made it hard to concentrate on the plot.  When I began the novel, the premise was so intriguing that I couldn’t wait to keep reading it the next night.  An elderly couple (when do you ever read about that in fantasy novels?) as the protagonists realize something is very strange in the fact that this “mist” keeps robbing their memories.  So they leave their village to find their son, meet up with a warrior, orphan boy, and the Sir Gawain (yes, that Gawain, from Arthur’s round table) and get entangled in their adventures, which is also somehow tied to the mist.  Premise sounds okay, right?  Well, the writing was deliberately old fashioned and halting with random stories thrown in here and there, that I couldn’t get as into it as I would have hoped.  I got bored or frustrated and wanted to give up.  I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, because I thought the ending was quite touching, but it didn’t make up for the rest of the novel.  3/5 stars.
  13. Failed Moments.  By Robert Allen.  The author, Allen, contacted me over Goodreads and sent me a free copy of this book in order to write an honest review.  The novel basically asked the question, “If you could go back in time to do the right thing, would you do it?” And the novel asks you to believe we have multiple lives.  My main qualms with this book is that the endings of his different lives seemed so rushed compared to the fleshing out of the story in both instances.  They almost were anti-climactic because you could see the ending before it came.  Allen took a longer time developing his characters and giving us historical context with background, but the ending always flew by and then all of a sudden, he was back at the hotel. I kept getting jarred out of the novel at times, a feeling I don’t like.  Story was good, but a little bit more work could make it great.  3/5 stars.
  14. The American Heiress. By Daisy Goodwin.  I picked up this book because some of the story had to do with the lives of the rich and famous in Newport, RI…right down the road from me and I’ve visited the mansions quite a few times.  It’s a YA novel of a fictional wealth American girl whose mothers would try to find them matches in titled English aristocrats.  The English dukes and barons needed the money and the Americans loved the title it gave them.  In this book, she marries a duke and becomes a Duchess.  Though the characters weren’t that interesting (and sometimes their actions didn’t make sense), I loved the contrast between the American “fast money” and the English “old money” and the differences between their points of views on money.  3/5 stars.
  15. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. By J.R.R. Tolkien.  Do I even need to write a review?  These are some of my favorite books.  It had been years since I read them, mostly because I had built it into my head that they were so long, forgetting that the last time I read them was in college.  When you don’t have papers and other reading to do – these books go by quite fast.  It was fun to reread and see what had been changed from the movies.  5/5 stars.  All of them.
  16. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. By Marie Kondo.  If you know me, I’m obsessed with organizing, scheduling, and “whenlife changing magic of tidying up book in doubt, throw it out”.  This book made me realize there are crazier people than me.  Quite a relief, actually.  That said, I do recommend this book if you are lacking motivation to clean your house.  She make some good points, such as a) if it doesn’t bring you joy, throw it out; b) Sort by category, not by room (books, clothes, kitchen utensils); c)  don’t become obsessed with fancy organizers; d) make sure everything has it’s “place” in your house; d) the more you clean out your house and keep it just to what brings you joy, the happier and more transformative your life will be.  But I warned you – she is really cray cray sometimes.  4/5 stars.
  17. The Mistress of Spices. By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  A novel about a woman transformed by magic and tasked with using her spices in a modern day San Francisco shop to help other people.  It took a while to get used to the way Ms. Divakaruni writes with run on AND fragmented sentences but it ended up being enjoyable once I got into the flow.  The magic was different from a fantasy novel, and I enjoyed that it was different from what I normally read.  But I wouldn’t read it again and I’m not sure I would recommend it either.  3/5 stars.
  18. A Cast of Stones. By Patrick W. Carr.  I haven’t done this in a long time, but the book I wanted hadn’t come into the library so I browsed the stacks until I found one that looked good.  And this is what I came up with.  (I should do that more often)  This was a stereotypical fantasy novel plot line.  An outsider protagonist (male, of course) with no hope for a future ends up on a quest where he does not know what is going on.  He’s hopeless in the beginning but slowly learns how to fight and think.  Ends up in a place where he takes a rest and rids himself of his inner demons, as well as becomes an amazing fighter.  Moves onward with his journey after the resting point and learns about love, betrayal, greed, etc., before finally coming to the place where he was supposed to end up in the beginning.  Once he’s there, he’s reunited with his friends, there’s a climactic battle, and he becomes the hero.  Yes, it was predictable.  But, yes, I also liked it.  The book appealed to my side of wanting to go off on a quest and feeling like an outsider.  Yet it also had more interesting subplots, which is what kept me reading this novel.  Such as the stones and reading them, and trying to find out if the group he was with was really on his side or just after their own ends.  Pros for me was there was not a lot of romance, there was fighting, and a sense of intrigue and mystery.  I believe this is the first novel in a set, but I’m not sure if I’d read any more.  I’m curious, but not curious enough.  3.8/5 stars.
  19. Four Sisters, All Queens. By Sherry Jones.  Funnily, this is the second book I read on the Provence sisters.  It’s not that I meant to, I just didn’t realize it was both on the same subject.  I almost gave up reading when I saw it was the same subject line as The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot (read it in 2014).  Where I think that Perinot’s novel was stronger, I like how Jones’ novel went into all four sisters and their lives.  Perinot only focused on Marguerite and Eleanor, the two most famous sister queens.  I appreciated that Jones wrote about all the sisters and their dynamics.  Overall, I learned a lot and enjoyed it but Sherry Jones really shied away from writing dramatic events.  Just as the chapter got really good, it would end and switch to another point of view.  You’d then return to that same sister a year later.  A good book and I enjoyed learning about that era in history…I only wish she would not have shied away from the important details.  3/5 stars.
  20. Lady in Waiting. By Susan Meissner.  Second book by Meissner this year.  I’m not a fan of modern fiction but Meissner did such a superb job with intertwining a modern day Jane going through a rough separation and Lady Jane Grey’s history.  I didn’t think they would relate, but she did a good job.  The “life lessons” were a little shoved in my face (and that’s saying something for me) but I didn’t mind it because I liked the novel.  I would recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction but want something a little off the beaten path. 4/5 stars.

 

My favorite book of this year (other than the LotR trilogy) would probably be a tie between The Name of the Wind/Wise Man’s Fear and Secrets of a Charmed Life.  Nothing blew me away like 2014’s Ready Player One, but the Kingkiller Chronicles surprised me with their depth and layers.  Secrets of a Charmed Life had me crying at one point, but also filled me with joy.  It was a surprisingly, satisfying read and I look for that in novels.

There you have it!  2015 in books.  If you want to follow my reading all year round, you can come hang out with me on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3910665-kiri

What was your favorite book of 2015?  Should I put it on my to-read list?

A Thorn in My Side

This blog/article made me angry: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2015/09/16/when-kids-strike-back-against-star-wars/

Besides the obvious fact that it was not written cohesively (I expected a piece on Star Wars with valid points, but instead I prequel trilogyfeel like I got a trip down memory lane), it also shows a lack of encouragement on having a child form her own opinion.

Her daughter most likely does not want to see the Prequels based on what her mother (and others) are saying.  But her mother probably explained the backstory of Anakin, his relationship to Obi-Wan, his secret wife, Padmé, how he turned to the dark side, etc. etc.  And guess where all that information came from?  Ohhhh yeahhhhh, those films that so many fans try to ignore: The Prequels.  Otherwise, we’d all still be questioning and guessing on the back story of our favorite movies.

I don’t think the Prequels were bad.  At all.  However, if you think they were horrible, then that’s your free choice.

When I was younger, my family always encouraged me to make decisions for myself by looking at all the different angles when it came to novels, movies, music, food.  If I didn’t like something because everyone else didn’t like something, I was always quickly shut up when my mother or sister always asked, “Did you read/eat/see it?”  And I would sheepishly reply that actually, no, I hadn’t done that.  In which they would promptly dismiss what I said because it had no validity.

Here’s a sampling of books/movies/music I swore to hate because “everyone else” hated them, and then was encouraged to read them by my family and make my own opinion:

  1. Pride and Prejudice
  2. Harry Potter
  3. The Clone Wars
  4. Country music
  5. The Hobbit
  6. Any and all documentaries (some of them are quite good, I’ve come to learn)
  7. Brussels Sprouts

Here’s a sampling of books/movies/music I thought I’d like because “everyone else” did, but found that I actually hated them:

  1. The Twilight Series
  2. Rap music (for the most part)
  3. Anne Rice novels
  4. Coffee (okay, not really in the same category but I cannot get the appeal)
  5. The Mists of Avalon

Do you see my point?  Even just a little?  “My daughter says she doesn’t even know who Jar Jar Binks is, but she doesn’t want to watch him on screen.”  If your daughter doesn’t know who Jar Jar is, then why does she have a problem watching him?

I’m not perfect by any means, but what I’m trying to say is that we should be encouraged to form opinions after we’ve actually experienced something ourselves.  I can’t imagine all the happiness I would have lost in my life had I never read Pride & Prejudice with the sole purpose to prove to my mom and sister how horrible it was.  What a good book!

Suppose my argument is not good enough.  Okay, fine.  The daughter does not want to watch the Prequels and she made her own opinion that they were horrible.  By herself.  Without seeing them.  Fine.

What makes me further ticked off with this article is that the author did not use this as an exploratory lesson for her child on star wars prequelsstorytelling and the different aspects of it.  She did not bring up that the Prequels are part of the history of Star Wars and you can’t just ignore them. They may not seem to have a huge relevance to Star Wars right now with the upcoming movie, but I know they will be referenced in future films (did you see the photo of Rogue One? Doesn’t that look like podracer parts in the background?).  Or how about the reason George Lucas focused on releasing the Original Trilogy first is because he knew that it was a stronger story than Anakin’s backstory.  Or how about the fact that the Prequels broke new ground with their CGI?  Or that the Prequels are actually a very interesting, tragic love story between someone who is forbidden to be in love and a story about best friends who end up almost killing each other.  Or that the PT show one man’s journey from boy to man and from light to dark – and that after watching them, it highlights the flavors of the Original Trilogy so much more.

I do not have kids, so maybe I’m making too hasty of a judgement.  But I am a Star Wars fan and I think this Prequel bashing has got to stop.  It’s one thing if you were brought up on the OT and were seriously disappointed by the PT.  It’s another when you, as a Star Wars fan, transfer that disgruntlement to your children.

I hated The Clone Wars when it first came out on TV.  But I eventually watched it to and I ended up loving it.  #AhsokaLives

Who can say that won’t happen to this 13 year old girl?

Book Review: A New Dawn

a new dawn book cover

First of all, if anyone wants my copy of A New Dawn, I will gladly send it your way for free.  Yup, I’ll pay for shipping too.  If I’m not going to read a book again, I like to share the love and give it to someone else who may appreciate it.  And from there, I hope the book karma continues.

A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller follows the life of Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla before they had formed the crew of Ghost as we know it in Star Wars Rebels.  The novel shows how they met and how they decided to stay together as a team.  Watching SWR, I always loved Kanan and Hera’s relationship.  They have a great friendship and my hope is that Disney does not take it in the direction of a romantic relationship only because I think that it’s so rare to see examples of male/female friendships on TV and in movies…so I love seeing this one that works.  And it works so well.

But how did it get to that point?  When did they first meet?  That’s what A New Dawn goes to show us.  The novel has its moments, and I enjoyed some of it, but there were parts that really bothered me as well.

**Spoiler Warning**

We start off by following Kanan and learning that he’s kind of this lone ranger guy (didn’t see that coming).  He works hard at very standard, physical jobs but doesn’t stick around in a place long enough to make lasting friends.  At one such job, there’s a man named Skelly, a former Clone Wars veteran who knows how to build explosives and understands the workings of the planet Cynda and the damage the Empire is doing to it by mining out thorilide.  Kanan realizes it’s finally time to start leaving this planet because he’s been there too long when the Empire starts showing a special interest in its raw material and sends Count Vidian (cue bad guy music) there to make use of it.  Skelly makes a mess of things and Kanan is forced to stick around a little longer than he would have liked, and by mistake, gets attached to Skelly as the story goes on.

Hera enters the story because she is already part of the Rebellion and they want her to find out what Count Vidian’s up to.  Now, it might not officially be the Rebellion yet, but let’s keep it at that for simplicity’s sake.  As she follows around Count Vidian, she inevitably meets up with Kanan and Skelly where they have a bunch of adventures trying to stop Vidian from destroying Cynda.  Skelly dies, as does Vidian (naturally), and Kanan and Hera go off and form a team together.  Though reluctant to have Kanan as her partner, as she also operates alone in missions, Hera does eventually give in and see the advantage of having Kanan with her due to his personality, ethics, and quick thinking in tight spots.  Having the Force probably helps too.

There’s the basic story.  My real thoughts are:

Pros:

  • Kanan and Hera’s relationship stayed strictly as friends. You can tell Kanan wants something more and finds her SloaneKananattractive, but Hera keeps him at a good distance.  Going into this novel, I was most worried about a romantic back story, but none of that happened.
  • A good amount of female characters. We see a female commanding officer of a Star Destroyer in the Empire: Captain Sloane.  There’s also Hera, Lal Grallik (a woman Besalisk manager who mines thorilide), and Zaluna, a Sullustan Imperial spy, but not by choice. She ends up turning on the Empire and helping out Kanan and Hera.  She was my favorite new character in the novel.  Oh yeah, and there are female stormtroopers. Not sure how I felt about that one as I’m not sure it makes sense.  I always assumed the Empire was largely misogynistic at that point in the timeline.
  • Weirdly, you kind of root for the Empire in a strange way towards the end. Miller does a good job at showing the reader that it’s not always cut and dry, good and bad.  When Sloane plays a part in stopping Count Vidian, despite all the promises he threw to her, you cheer for her even though you have a moment of, “Oh wait – but the Empire is bad.”
  • Kanan does a good job at hiding his abilities in the Force. I think as an author, it can be tempting when you have a character with “superpowers” to bring these into the story consistently.  If I remember correctly, Kanan only showed his Force abilities 3 times in the novel, and twice would make it seem questionable to an outsider.  The last time, he saves him and Hera from impending death (of course) and it makes her see him in a new light. Though the last instance was somewhat predictable, I didn’t mind as much because I knew it had to happen eventually.

Cons:

  • Not enough time with Hera. We did get into her point of view occasionally, but didn’t find out much about her background. There was a lot more of that with Kanan and I felt that though the author could have set out to make this a Kanan/Hera story equally, it felt like there was WAY more emphasis on Kanan.  So in the end, it was a male driven story.
  • The story line as a whole seemed like it was trying just a little too hard and playing a little too safe. Miller wanted to make it as Star Wars as possible, but instead it got boring at times and felt predictable. The plot was very convenient and set up in a way that things fell nicely into place.  He wrapped it up in a nice little box that says “Star War Novel”, when instead, the stories that stand out in the EU are the ones that broke new ground and gave us something different, but felt similar.
  • Speaking of predictable, the main nemesis, Count Vidian was not that interesting. I felt like he was General Grievous all over again.  Intelligent, cyborg-ish, and ruthless.    Whenever we were in his point of view, I realized I just didn’t care.

My main gripe with this book is that I wanted more Hera involvement.  I wanted to understand her character, what drove her to ANewDawnbe so passionate about getting rid of the Empire, and what her past was like.

The best thing out of this book is getting to know a lot more about Kanan and understanding that while the Empire is evil, there are some beings within it that make it even more evil.  And sometimes you have to pick between a lesser evil and greater evil, which was what happened at the end of the novel.  You may not be able to take out the entire Empire, but maybe taking out one horrible Count is enough of a small victory.

I’d give A New Dawn 3/5 stars.  It’s a solid book and there are parts of the novel that felt really Star Wars to me, but there were also quite a few times when I thought Miller was trying a little too hard.

Want to read this book?  Let me know.  I’ll mail it to you.